116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn County supervisors are expected to give final approval Monday for a ban on subjecting a minor to “conversion therapy” — a widely debunked practice of trying to change the sexual orientation or gender identity of an LGBTQ person into a straight man or woman.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors approved its second consideration of the ordinance Wednesday on a 2-1 vote, with Supervisor Louie Zumbach opposed. A third and final consideration of the ordinance is scheduled for Monday.
When adopted, the ordinance would apply only to rural Linn County, but supporters said they hope the county’s cities will pas their own bans. In Iowa, only Davenport has a conversion therapy ban, according to the Movement Advancement Project. Across the country, about 100 municipalities and 19 states have banned it.
Conversion therapy has been associated with damaging the mental health of LGBTQ people, especially youths.
Supervisor Chair Ben Rogers said there are no practitioners here currently that the county is aware of, but he said the ordinance’s purpose is to ensure there aren’t in the future.
“No psychologist worth their salt would consider this as a form of actual therapy,” Rogers said. “It’s not a mental disorder. It’s who you simply are.”
The American Psychiatric Association and other accredited psychologist organizations have been against conversion therapy since the 1990s.
“No credible evidence exists that any mental health intervention can reliably and safely change sexual orientation; nor, from a mental health perspective does sexual orientation need to be changed,” the association said in a statement in 2021.
The therapies have been known to cause anxiety, depression and suicidal thoughts and suicide deaths. A 2022 study done by The Trevor Project found that 6 percent of LGBTQ youths have been subjected to conversion therapy and 10 percent have been threatened with it by a family member or guardian.
About a couple dozen Linn County residents participated in public comment Wednesday at the supervisors’ meeting, saying they support the ban and encourage other municipalities to do the same. As Linn County is the governing board only for unincorporated Linn County, ordinances apply only to those areas.
“Conversion therapy has been discredited by professionals for decades. … Gender is not black and white and it's part of the diversity of the human experience,” Marion resident Jo Pearson said. “How can anyone know or understand another’s gender identity? It's disrespectful and dangerous. These are our friends, neighbors and relatives.”
“This would help encourage people to move here, come here as tourists. … It will serve as an example to other counties in the area, municipalities and other states as a whole,” Cedar Rapids resident Drew Powell said.
Earlier this year, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a law that prohibits transgender women student athletes from participating in school women’s sports.
Iowa has no law banning conversion therapy. In 2020, Republican Rep. Bobby Kaufmann of Wilton introduced a bill that would have banned health care providers from administering conversion therapy to minors, but did not extend the ban to clergy members or religious counselors. The bill wasn’t advanced.
Supervisor Zumbach voted against approving the ordinance, as he did during the first consideration as well, saying he believes the issue is outside of the realm of being a supervisor and should be a state issue instead. He also pointed out that a concern about the therapy did not come from someone in Linn County.
Supervisor Stacey Walker said the issue came to his attention from Iowa Safe Schools, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group.
“Iowa Safe Schools did bring this to my attention so I want to be transparent and acknowledge that. It was the hope that other municipalities would join us in this effort given our limits to unincorporated Linn County and unfortunately there wasn’t much interest from other municipalities. … Hopefully if passed, this will inspire other communities here and around the state,” Walker said.
Iowa Safe Schools Executive Director Becky Smith told The Gazette on Wednesday that the organization is proud to work with Linn County during Pride Month.
“This is a very real issue affecting our students and is leading to higher rates of suicidality, depression, anxiety and other negative mental health outcomes,” Smith said.
Smith said that Iowa Safe Schools is working with other municipalities in Iowa to pass similar ordinances, but the hope is for the state to pass its own law.
“Our team looks forward to the day when the Iowa Legislature passes our bill outlawing conversion therapy in all 99 counties, protecting thousands of children from physical and psychological abuse,” Smith said.
Walker noted that because there is no state law on conversion therapy, the rules allow local governments to operate in spaces that the state doesn’t occupy.
“We do what we can to protect people where we can,” Walker said. “We as a board have faced other issues like raising wages, fireworks, solar farms, casinos. When we argue about the purview of the government, that’s our beliefs. But every 45 seconds, a LGBTQ youth commits suicide. We can argue whether or not it’s our responsibility to do something about that, but it’s one of those things you have to say we have the ability to try and do something.”
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